December 7, 2014
By Greg Litmer
“Nothing is more distinctly Catholic than devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” So states J.D. Conway in the authorized Catholic work, “What the Church Teaches.” Those familiar with the outpouring of devotion toward Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the numerous doctrines concerning her in Roman Catholicism recognize the truthfulness of Conway’s statement. The purpose of this article will be to seek to determine the source of this Roman Catholic devotion to Mary and the authority for their Marian doctrines. Well do I remember my days as a student at St. John’s the Evangelist in Cincinnati, Ohio. Each May, one eighth-grade girl would be chosen from her class to receive the honor of placing a crown upon a statue of Mary that stood in the churchyard. The entire school took part in the procession leading up to the climax which was her crowning. It was a marvelously inspiring ceremony, and as a child it never occurred to me to ask where it came from. Yet such a question is important. Did God authorize in His Holy word such devotion to Mary? Did He teach the various doctrines concerning her therein? Or is the entire system of Roman Catholic Mariology entirely man-made and without divine authority?
Mary In the Scriptures
Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears in the following New Testament passages: She is found in the narratives concerning the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 1 and 2; we read of Mary at the wedding feast in Cana, John 2:1-11; we read of her in the event described in Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:32-35; we read of her at the cross of Jesus in John 19:25-27; and, finally, we read of Mary in Acts 1:14 in the upper room in Jerusalem. The passage in the first chapter of Acts is the last time that we read of Mary. There she is said to be joined with the disciples and other women in prayer and supplication along with the brethren of Jesus.
In the twenty-two books of the New Testament that follow the Acts of the apostles, Mary is not mentioned. John, who was entrusted with her care by Jesus, does not mention her in any of his three epistles or in the book of Revelation. There is no place of prominence, no position of extraordinary honor, given to Mary in the pages of God’s word. At no time can we read of prayer being offered to her or through her.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives this summation of what we can learn about Mary from the Biblical accounts concerning her. It says,
“The sum of the matter concerning Mary seems to be this: The mother of Jesus was a typical Jewish believer of the best sort. She was deeply meditative, but by no means a daring or original thinker. Her inherited Messianic beliefs did not and perhaps could not prepare her for the method of Jesus which involved so much that was new and unexpected. But her heart was true, and from the beginning to the day of Pentecost, she pondered in her heart the meaning of her many puzzling experiences until the light came. The story of her life and of her relationship to Jesus is consistent throughout and touched with manifold unconscious traits of truth. Such a narrative could not have been feigned or fabled.”
There is absolutely no indication in God’s word of anything that even remotely resembles Roman Catholic Mariology. Where did it come from? How did this system of veneration grow into what it is today?
As It Developed
It is safe and correct to say that the early church knew nothing of what has come to be called Mariology. Standing in sharp contrast to the Biblical account, there appeared certain apocryphal writings in the latter part of the second century that greatly expanded upon Mary’s role and did so in legendary fashion. The most prominent of these was called “The Protoevangelium of James.” In this work all sorts of things about Mary are stated, such as the names of her parents, that she stayed for a time in the temple as a little girl, a rather imaginative story about her birth, and it also states that she remained a virgin throughout her life. Roman Catholic authorities have rejected this work as spurious, and yet have absorbed many of its legends into their system of Mariology.
As time went on, many other writers added other elements to the story. It is interesting to notice that a “church father” who is often quoted by Roman Catholic authorities as a Roman Catholic source raised his voice against these legends and denied that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. His name was Tertullian and he died in 222 A.D. There is a picture of Mary found in a catacomb in Rome that is dated from the latter part of the second century. The necessary conclusion is that for a least 150 years after the establishment of the church, there was no special attention paid to Mary. It was not until the middle of the second century that legends concerning her began to appear.
In the centuries that followed, various groups arose that denied the divinity of Jesus as born from Mary. They taught that the child conceived in Mary’s womb was solely man and not divine until after his birth. In response to this, the Council of Ephesus declared Mary the “mother of God” in 431 A.D. From this decree the theologians engaged in all sorts of speculations. By 449 A.D., we find Mary being referred to as a perpetual virgin. The reasoning behind this is not hard to understand. As the mother of God, surely purely human seed would not taint her womb. From there the process of elaboration continue with Mary being declared personally sinless and the teaching that she ascended bodily into heaven. This process has not stopped. Currently strides are being taken to have Mary declared co-mediatrix with Jesus. Over the years, the Roman Catholic church has given her the title of Virgin of Virgins, Gate of Heaven, Queen of Heaven, Co-Redemptrix, Queen of Sorrows, Virgin Most Merciful, and many, many others. The whole system has no scriptural basis.
Since there is no scriptural support for Mariology, as well as no historical evidence to sustain it either, how does the Roman Catholic Church justify it? I think a quote from the Manual of Catholic Theology concerning just one doctrine in the system of Mariology will explain their approach. It says, “Mary’s corporeal assumption into heaven is so thoroughly implied in the notion of her personality as given by the Bible and dogma, that the church can dispense with strict historical evidence of the fact.” I suppose that if that’s the approach that one chooses to take, then the facts make very little difference. In other words, the Roman Catholic authorities believe their system of Mariology to be true because they say it is true. ~
(Taken from “Catholicism Examined,” Edited by Greg Litmer and David Riggs, Vol. 2, March 1985).
I hear people talk about someone who is "really getting on up in years." It is a blessing to live a long life and reach the twilight years. God's Word tells us to be respectful of those who are our elders: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:32). The world would be a better place if younger generations would appreciate and honor those who have reached seniority.
There is a responsibility that comes with age. I've also heard people say, "She has really aged well." Christians ought to be men and women who "age well" - in areas such as maturity, spirituality, knowledge, wisdom and the fruits of the Spirit.
Titus 2:1-5 speaks directly to older Christians: "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."
Retirement is rewarding to someone who has worked hard all their life. But we cannot retire from following and serving God. Notice how much emphasis is placed in Titus 2 upon the kind of qualities older Christians are to exemplify and teach to the younger ones coming after them! The old saying is true: "Young people set their watches, for right time or wrong, by the watches of their elders." Younger generations need a pattern of life worth emulating, a living demonstration of Christianity, a role model to look up to in the lives of men and women who have reached the zenith of life.
Are you "aging well"? --Clyde H. Slimp ~